Have you ever sat down to look at your dog’s food in more detail to work out exactly what your dog is taking in and wondered what each ingredient on the pet food label means?
It’s not always an easy thing to do, even if you’re used to reading labels for your own diet. But even if it seems daunting it is important.
With the help of Gerard Lovell, Joint MD at Forthglade and owner of Bo, an inquisitive female Labrador, we have put together a very simple guide on how to read pet food labels – what foods are good and what foods are bad for dogs.
The Goodies: What your pet food label should include and why
Recently alongside his team, Gerard carried out a survey to study dog owners and their pet food buying habits.
8 in 10 said they were unsure of what ingredients were in their dog's food, with 19% revealing they didn’t actually read what ingredients their pets were being fed, meaning more dogs could be being fed junk foods – or food nasties – without nutritional value.
Green Olives - Are They Good For Dogs?
But whether you’ve put off reading your dog’s pet food label or not, it’s never too late to start.
When trying to find a nutritionally balanced healthy meal for dogs it’s really important to know how to read pet food labels because it’s easy to presume your dog is getting something that they’re not, and they could be missing out on something vital – whether as a puppy who needs extra vitamins and minerals for growth, or an adult dog who’s full of beans and needs something a little extra to help their joints and immune system keep up.
Gerard tells us when researching good meals pet owners should look for the following:
1. High meat content
K9 Magazine says: Look for actual named meats, such as chicken, salmon, duck, beef – all named, rather than derivatives of the meat product or generally termed
2. A mix of vitamins and minerals which ensure a complete balanced diet
K9 Magazine says: For instance, copper, taurine, zinc, vitamin A, D3 and E – more can be found here
3. Quality, natural ingredients – essentially, it should be free from junk and fillers
More below on how to identify what junk and fillers are
4. Nutritious vegetables
K9 Magazine says: For example, sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots or peas
Echoing Gerard’s recommendation for good quality vegetables in a dog’s diet, Dr Billinghurst, an advocate of a heavy protein-based diet, recommends vegetables as a way to balance a dog’s alkalinity and acidity levels saying:
“Organs like the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, hormones, heart, kidneys function better in a more alkaline environment.
"Proteins like meat make the body more acidic, while most vegetables and some fruits have an alkalizing effect on the body."
The Nasties: What foods are bad for dogs and why
As important as it is to know what you should look for, it’s equally important to know how to understand what foods may be included on your pet’s food labels that have no nutritional value at all and would be considered junk or a filler.
7 Red flags on pet food labels
1. Sugar, Caramel, Syrup and Sucrose
2. Meat by-products
3. Corn and Wheat gluten
4. Rendered Fat Cereal ‘Germ’, ‘Bran’, ‘Middlings’, ‘Grits’, or ‘Hulls’
5. Non-specific protein sources – buy named meats only
6. Artificial Colouring – ‘Sunset yellow, E110’, ‘ Tartrazine, E102’, ‘ Patent Blue, E131’
7. EC additives, artificial preservatives, BHA(E320) and BHT (E321)
Gerard explains why some of these ingredients should be considered ‘pet food nasties’ saying, "Corn or Wheat gluten is cheap waste products from the human food industry commonly added to pet food to make the protein content higher.
They’re an inferior source to animal protein and difficult for dogs to digest – not to mention common causes of allergies.
"Pet foods containing artificial flavourings or sugars should also be avoided, as these can lead to problems ranging from a lack-lustre coat, bad breath and upset tummies through to hyperactivity one minute and lethargy the next."
Healthy eating plans for dogs
The rise of healthy eating plans can largely be placed at our own doors, boosted our desire to make sure we live well and our diets fill us with the energy needed to live a modern, active life.
So you may be used to hearing about these types of eating plans for people rather than dogs, but if we apply the same logic about why we consider it suitable for ourselves, there are legitimate reasons why we should consider for our dogs too.
Gerard tells us "It’s all about finding a nutritionally balanced natural diet. Whether that diet be complete or complementary, wet or dry and seeking out a food packed with good quality natural ingredients."
Dogs need protein, but it has to be a good quality protein
"Quality protein is the most important part of your dog’s diet. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are used for energy, the production of enzymes, hormones and antibodies and building muscle and other structural tissue.
"Eggs, fish and specified meat sources are considered the best foods for providing nutritionally rich and high-quality protein."
Dogs function better with carbs
"Dogs can convert protein and fat into energy and therefore don’t have a specific requirement for carbohydrates. However, carbs spare valuable proteins from being used for energy, so they can be used for tissue repair and growth. As a result, a dog’s body functions much better with some carbs in its diet.
"Carbohydrates also provide dietary fibre, which promotes gastrointestinal health and helps your dog feel full. The healthiest sources are unprocessed or minimally processed such as healthy brown rice – or for our grain-free recipes we use tasty sweet potato and butternut squash – a wonderful alternative for pets with more sensitive tummies."
Dogs need these vitamins to stay healthy
Dogs need vitamins and minerals to grow, develop, and stay healthy, but balance is key.
Gerard tells us, "We use glucosamine and chondroitin in our meals which helps prevent the breakdown of joint cartilage.
"We also include vitamin E as a powerful antioxidant, Zinc as an essential mineral used by all the body’s cells, and Taurine which can regulate the heartbeat.
"Herbs and botanicals are also valuable for great health – for example, linseed oil is beneficial to a pet’s skin and coat and can aid bone development, whilst prebiotics encourage the growth of ‘friendly bacteria’ – it's all about finding a complete, nutritionally balanced diet."